If you have ever been to Thailand or Southeast Asia in April then you are probably familiar with Songkran: the festival of water fights! April is the hottest month in Thailand (this year even breaking records) and to celebrate the Thai New Year people toss buckets, spray water guns, pump hoses and engage in massive water fights to cool off. But looking beyond the fun water play, Songkran is also a holiday steeped in meaning and tradition. Songkran is celebrated in coordination with the Buddhist calendar to celebrate the New Year. For three days the Thai people make merit, give offerings to monks, build sand jedis, have parades, and have ceremonies where they use water to wash away negativity and give blessings and good wishes for the upcoming year.
I have been in Thailand several years and have been a part of Sonkgran festivities, but this year was special for me. One of the things that I have always noticed and appreciated about the Thai culture is their sense of family and community. When I arrived to work with SOLD in November, I was immediately taken in and treated as family being invited to participate in community gatherings, events, being taken care of, fed, and they are ever so patient with my attempts at learning Thai! In this manner, I was invited to participate in the Songkran festivities of paying respect to elders in the village. In Thai communities the elders are looked to and respected because of the wisdom they can offer.
When I arrived in the morning, all of the elders of the village were seated in the front of the gazebo and the staff had made a special mix of flowers and water to put into small bowls. I was told this flower water was a northern Thai tradition. Kids were sitting in the sala and the staff was speaking in honor of the elders. Everyone lined up to get a bowl of flower water and following their lead, I took a bowl and kneeled in front of the first elder. She smiled at me as I awkwardly held the bowl in front of her. She placed her hands on it as well and began speak softly of all the things she wished for me for the upcoming year. She said that she could see I had a good heart and gave me blessings that I would grow old and wise (like her). She continued to speak and then dipped her fingers into the bowl and sprinkled the water gently on both her head and then mine. Even though I couldn’t understand all of the words that she said to me, I was touched by her genuine care for me; a foreigner to her village. I thanked her and moved on to the next elder, and on down the line until all of them had given me their blessing. What a beautiful way to start my day by having good wishes put upon me. Regardless of the language barrier, I felt blessed and ready to take on the upcoming year. I realized then that emotion and appreciation are things that don’t always need translation and my heart felt full.
As I watched the children of the village go down the line, and each elder smile, bless them and impart their wisdom, I thought about how these kids will grow up to be the next and future generation. And what better way to give them wisdom than to give them an education. It reminded me how important the resource center is to this community. It reminded me of the work that the families and the staff do to keep these kids in school. It reminded me of how education will give them options in life and I realized that they are blessed. They are blessed with community. They are blessed with mentors. And ultimately they are blessed with the promise of following their dreams!